For the past six months, Professor Andrei Yudin at the University of Toronto has been on sabbatical, gaining experience with protein crystallography at Toronto’s half of the Structural Genomics Consortium. Like most chemists branching into biology, he’s mostly been thinking about all the chemistry he could be doing . Rather than keeping these thoughts to himself he set up his own blog, and has been writing nearly every day. The posts range from useful papers/topics to interesting unsolved research problems, with a few travelogues and biological insights thrown in for good measure.
The Yudin lab does some great work, and these posts are a glimpse into the planning behind each project. I’d highly recommend taking a look through the archives yourself (the whole thing takes about 2 hours to go through), but in case you’re strapped for time here are some of my favourites:
The best question to ask at the start of any research project is, “Is this worth the time and effort?”, while the most crucial question to ask periodically thereafter is, “Is it time to pull the plug?” I’ve never had a dearth of projects or ideas, but feature creep and the sunk cost fallacy are always a problem.
What can we draw from a 30% yield? Without the proper analysis the answer is generally, “not much.” This post emphasizes the importance of a examining the crude reaction via a quantitative assay (HPLC, GC-MS, etc.). The assay results can be used to determine an assay yield , which will show if the low experimental yield is the result of poor technique, poor conversion, or poor selectivity.
How good is your microscale technique? The University of Minnesota likes to challenge students with a MCPBA-based partial epoxidation of geraniol, on the 1 mg scale. My organic labs heavily relied on microscale kits, but even we didn’t go this low.
 I kid, I kid.
 Assay yield = Selectivity x Conversion. Selectivity is determined by the amount of product formed, while conversion is 1 minus the amount of starting material remaining.